This seems like a good time…

I’m sure you’ve noticed that Books & Whatnot emails have been arriving in your inbox less frequently. I thought I should explain.

About 6 months after I launched Books & Whatnot in 2014, I took a job at my local NPR member station. I was able to send Books & Whatnot daily for a few years, until I couldn’t. What started as the ‘digital content creator’ position has evolved into a ‘director of marketing and digital content’ position, and I also work on 3 podcast teams as either creator, editor, producer or host. Now I’ve been asked to join a podcast team at NPR’s StoryLab workshop for a project on the forthcoming gubernatorial race in my home state of Kansas, a state which, politically, at least, has been known to be its own worst enemy.

This seems like a good time to reformat Books & Whatnot.

We’ll keep posting reviews, 300-second suggestions, display images, and other noteworthy content to the website in a timely manner, but you’ll only receive a weekly round-up in your inbox. Hopefully this new format will be less daunting . . . for both of us!

Thanks for your continued support.

Beth

Review: ‘House of Broken Angels’

Have you ever thought about what you would think about if you knew you were dying? If you knew you were dying soon? If you are curious as to what it would be like, just read The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea.

Big Angel is the patriarch of a large, loud, opinionated Mexican (Mexican-AMERICAN thanks to Big Angel) family. And he’s dying. Soon. So he does what the patriarch of any big family would do – he decides to throw himself the biggest birthday bash ever seen. He invites all of his crazy relatives – his siblings, estranged children, everybody’s sister and child, grandchild and niece.

As with any family, Big Angel’s has its share of drama. There are feuds, brawls, tears, and laughs, tons of family stories to be told.  I loved that part. But what I loved most was Big Angel himself; reflecting on his life and coming to terms with his imminent departure from the world he has known and loved. There was something so real, so honest, in his fears and sorrows. I loved the way he talked about his memory, especially the memories of meeting his wife as a young man, of falling in love and then staying in a marriage, more or less in love. It’s the perfect novel for anyone who loves a large cast of colorful characters, a great family saga, or stories about crossing borders and building new lives.

Big Angel is definitely not perfect, but he felt very, very real.


House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (Little Brown & Company | 9780316154888 | March 6, 2018)

Review: ‘The Italian Teacher’

Is it possible to really enjoy a book even though the main character is pretty much all-around unattractive? In looks, demeanor, attitude, thought? I think it must be, because I really enjoyed The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman, even though Pinch, our “hero,” is pretty pathetic.

The son of Bear Bavinsky, a famous and philandering painter, Pinch lives his life struggling to earn his father’s approval. He questions every move, every decision, and every conversation – hoping that it is the “right” one. He ends up teaching Italian at a small, unremarkable college in London, having long ago cast aside his desire to paint. When Pinch finds himself suddenly in Bear’s confidence and good graces, he makes some interesting and life-changing decisions that propel the second half of the story.

Bear is definitely the most dynamic character in the novel – loud, interesting, creatively unique. He’s almost too much of a character, probably best seen through the eyes of his admittedly less interesting son. A lot of the story has to do with Bear’s artistic persona, the quirks to his genius and also his obsession with self-preservation and perfection. I was completely interested the whole way through but found Pinch pretty pathetic.


The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman (Viking | 9780735222694 | February 20, 2018)

Review: ‘Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow’

I know everyone compares everything to Harry Potter, but this really does have the same sort of readability and charm. It’s the story of Morrigan Crow, born a cursed child and hated in her hometown (her father is mayor). Morrigan gets blamed for everything, from bad weather to upset stomachs to lost pets. Good thing that cursed children are all killed the night before their 11th birthday, and for Morrigan Crow, that is tomorrow.

Just before Morrigan is to die, a mysterious stranger whisks her away to Nevermoor, a realm she didn’t know existed, where she finds herself being groomed to compete for a spot in the illustrious Wundrous Society, a school for the gifted. The magically gifted, that is. Morrigan has to compete in a series of trials to earn her place among the future leaders of the country. The only problem is, she has no magic talent to speak of.

Living in an enchanted, clever and ever-changing hotel overseen by a large talking cat, Morrigan comes to love her life in this new world. But as with all good Harry-Potter-esque novels, there is something sinister afoot. And if she doesn’t pass her trials and make it into the Wundrous Society, she’ll be thrown back to her hometown to face certain death. I can’t wait for the second installment, due out in October 2018.


Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Little Brown Books for Young Readers | 9780316508889 | October 31, 2017)

Review (Plus): ‘I Sleep In a Big Bed’

Ms. America’s Review:

I have found there are three mega times of transition in my children’s lives—becoming a ‘kid’ from a toddler, entering middle school (hormones, name-brands, pressure) and the junior year of high school (leaving the nest, learning to drive, college apps and what am I going to do with my life?). Now, I haven’t found a series of books for the last two, but Maria van Lieshout has offered help with the first transitional period—BIG*KID Power books. Her fourth book in this series comes out in March, I Sleep in a Big Bed.

As with her other books in this series, this little book offers relatable pictures for children to see themselves as a baby transitioning to a toddler. One of my favorite aspects in these books is the read-aloud quality van Lieshout offers. Her use of onomatopoeia is super fun! I love making the noises and making the youngster giggle as I read!

There are so many nights of parenting when we just WANT THEM TO SLEEP IN THEIR OWN BEDS! This book helps a parent with a teachable moment during the day without frustration or anger as they are often sleep deprived when the little one insists on sleeping with the parent, or comes crawling in to the parent bed in the middle of the night. It is often easier to let the child crawl into bed with them. But this book provides the idea of a lovey for their comfort verse the parent. This is also a book that can be read multiple times and used as an example throughout the days, months or years when your little one needs/insists/begs to be in your bed.

Vibrant pictures, fun sounds, and an easy to understand message is presented. The use of black and blue colors also helps give the book a ‘night time’ feel. The darkness of night is scary for little people, but with a lovey and some reassurance, a big kid can learn to sleep by themselves.

In the classroom:

Usually I offer a guide to an assignment or a lesson plan idea. This book should be used in the home instead of the classroom. It is a personal parenting decision whether you want your little person to co-sleep with you. If you are ready for the little person to sleep on their own and have tried every tactic you can think of, I highly recommend a lovey and this book. If you are having issues with potty training, binky addictions or awful tantrums there are BIG*KID Power books for these life issues, too.


I Sleep in a Big Bed by Maria van Lieshout (Chronicle Books | 9781452162904 | March 13, 2018)